Have I said this before? I’m not a developer. Although someone accused me of being one, I tell people I google for code snippets, then bash them together and sometimes things work. Someone said “Your a developer then”. Golly I hope most developers are slightly better than that. With that in mind, I would never suggest you just implement code you don’t understand, or code someone else has written blindly.
I had a very simple “scripting” requirement. My problem is, I can understand code, I can manipulate it – but when looking at an IDE, it is like looking at a blank page with no idea how to start. With all this talk of “ChatGPT can program for you” – I figured I would give it a shot.
I have a need for a simple macro in a Cisco Webex device, for the purposes of room automation for a Future of Work project, I need to send a basic HTTP API call via a GET request when calls start and end. That’s it.
Finding a Solution
A quick google search turned up not many specific assistive links. I did get a link for the various macro samples on GitHub, as well as some of the macro documentation located on webex.com – but they were in specific.
I spent a few minutes pouring through examples trying to find code snippets using what I needed but found nothing specific.
Then I had a bit of a thought..
Can ChatGPT Really Help?
First I tried typing the exact same thing from Google, into ChatGPT.
At first glance, this actually looks pretty good. This gives me a good basis to do what I need. Run a macro on call start.
That gave me a good blueprint – but can it finish for me? “Once the call starts send an http get”
Once the call starts I actually need to send an HTTP GET to the system I am using for automation. I figured why continue to figure this out, let’s see if ChatGPT can do that.
the response was great, but the URL I am using also has a custom port. I could of course open the documentation for that function and figure out how to send a port number – or – let’s just see.
Can ChatGPT make basic additions to the code?
Something simple, not only did ChatGPT very quickly understand what I was asking for, with a very in specific request to add code – but it even pulled out the section I had to add.
Ok, this is good! Let’s keep going.
ChatGPT Error Handling
So I took this code, and deployed it on my Webex Codec Pro in my lab, to see if it would do what I wanted. I did of course change the hostname/port/path to the back end I was working with
However I got an error, a long winded one telling me the module “http” didn’t exist. At first I figured ChatGPT wouldn’t be able to solve this, but gave it a shot. I copied the error message verbatim from the macro log directly.
To my surprise, ChatGPT totally re-wrote the code in another manner to achieve this while removing the http function that was “missing”
We can get back to the logging differences later on.
Did it work? Back to the Documentation
Not as well as I had hoped. The macro didn’t appear to be “doing” anything. No errors – just no action.
I took a moment to look at this “event” that it was trapping. “CallStarted”
This event, doesn’t exist. From my searches, it never has. So back to the documentation we go.
I did try and use ChatGPT to fix the problem.
Unfortunately when I asked for help, ChatGPT gave up on me. I tried it a few times in case it was a busy issue but I couldn’t get a response to my problem.
Back in the documentation under “Events” I was able to find the “CallSuccessful” and “CallDisconnect” events. I wonder if these would work so I changed the code.
Success! It did work. While ChatGPT was busy I was able to get this working without ChatGPT.
I finally was able to get ChatGPT to work again, and I was able to say “CallStarted” doesn’t exist. I was able to get this response, which is correct. This code – works.
Can I use ChatGPT to write code?
There are a few challenges. It did help, I got this done in about 1/5 the time it probably would have taken me. I also didn’t really have to engage another team mate, leaving them free to work on their normal stuff.
There is also the learning aspect, these examples are now something I have learned, my skill in xAPI has improved through this exercise.
Who’s Code Is This? Can I use it?
So who owns this code? Who gets credit for it? I won’t try and take credit for owning the code, or claiming I wrote it. I am at best a hack (again) – but able to hack this to make it work. The challenge here, is where did this code come from? ChatGPT doesn’t “own” it. This code came from somewhere.
Did ChatGPT find this code on GitHub somewhere? In some kind of documentation? Was this the result of copyrighted knowledge? What is the license on this “code”?
For the purposes of learning or hackery – this might be fine, but to use code like this in a commercial environment – I’m not sure that would be ok, at a minimum there would be no way to know.
There is significant IP issues here, but this simplistic attempt at using ChatGPT to “get things done” worked for me. I’m just not sure I could legally and ethnically use it for commercial work.
I decided to ask ChatGPT about the license. The response was interesting. “I don’t generate code” I think that is arguable.
Then I asked about a commercial purpose. It wasn’t me to check the license terms of the code, that it provide from who knows what source.
This was an interesting experiment, that I didn’t plan to make – but it worked out in the end. I wanted to share how I was able to use ChatGPT to actually do something useful. So many questions came up during the process. Where is this going now? I have no idea, but it sure is interesting. I would be careful about taking what it says seriously, or using serious or important code without understanding what it is doing. What I am doing is reasonably benign, and while I am no developer, I do understand what this script is doing.
If you asked me two years ago if I was going to write this blog – I would have told you no way. I’m a technology architect – I design things. As many that know me well will tell you, I say it often, I am “not a coder”.
“But wait, didn’t you go to college for programming?” – not really, I took some college courses (Borland Turbo C), and in high school I did some Visual Basic, and I have done some scripting. The reality is that if you write some code – I can read and understand what you are doing, but asking me to write something from scratch, is about as useful as asking a trombone player to paint like Picasso – my brain isn’t wired like that.
Micro-services and Cloud Require Coding Skills
Ok, i’ll admit that – the new world does require more skills than I have. So this year, I took some GO courses, I also did more Python. Would you like me to admit that I enjoyed it? I really tried, and for awhile it was going well, but it just doesn’t feel like me – nevertheless – it helped a fair bit.
I actually enjoy coding more on embedded stuff. Arduino, robots, Nvidia Nano’s – maybe it’s the connection to the hardware that keeps my mind interested. I have also dabbled with some ML stuff, and creating my own ML models.
The cloud requires just a tad more coding skills – and – I am working on it, but alas, my mind still doesn’t work that way. I think however, I found a hack.
Move Up Stack – Don’t Change Mentality
The good news for anyone who is used to cables, switches, routers and servers – is that this new world isn’t any different than the old one. It just shifts everything you know – up in the stack. It was when I started to think this way, everything was in focus.
Being a long time communications nerd, and someone who started off in TDM telecom – for me, communications is pretty standard. Everything has to communicate to function and work and just as I made the migration from TDM to IP, it’s time to migrate from monolithic to micro-service.
Albeit, I won’t lie, I was in my 20’s when I started VoIP, and I was the only one at my company who was even willing to go near it. People looked at me like I had two heads when I told them what it did. “How do you get ring voltage without a trunk?”. I digress.
The bottom line is that the physical, datalink and even the network layers are now being abstracted from applications. Run it anywhere you want, don’t worry about what is underneath. Yeah, that sounds like a plan – just trust the environment underneath. The reality is that you shouldn’t, and your applications should be protected from the chaos that now exists – underneath. This does however mean you have to write your applications and deploy them in an intelligent way, remember, you are the pointy end of the communications stick now, no firewall to save you. With great power comes great responsibility, a responsibility that used to sit in the hands of network engineers.
Security In The Hands Of Developers
My friends look at me like I have gone crazy around the campfire (no literally) – they laugh out loud when I make that statement. The good news is that tools exist to help, I have always said that security is a layered approach, never rely on a single thing to keep you safe.
Applications are complex beasts – and there is hardly an application that uses 100% its own code, much of it comes from open source or third party sources – so how do you know if you can trust it? What if that application is updated, what if someone else finds a bug in some code you used – but – you don’t know. These are big things to think about – but the big manufactures like Cisco, are working on tools for that (Disclaimer – I work for Cisco). Scrubbing your applications to make sure you are not using out of date tools.
Many of the tools will monitor your code, APIs, and micro-services for intrusion or bad actors, some do it through traditional “firewall” type methods, some by interrogating traffic, but there is an increasing need to analyze transaction level traffic to both ensure performance and security. AppDynamics has been doing much of this for some time, both security and performance. See more of that here from Tech Field day. That said, we have new tools we are working on.
You Need A Baseline To Detect Problems and Threats
Unless you know every single call your APIs make – how do you know what is real and what is not? What if someone messing with your services? What if some developer has written sloppy code or using an API in an unexpected way. You need a baseline. There is actually a standard for this called the OpenAPI Spec. You can specify how your API works – but what if your inter-service API is a mess, or built over time. Trying to build out a spec could be difficult – or what if it isn’t your API.
The good news is tools exist to help.
Everything Becomes Clear with APIClarity
Cisco developed an application called APIClarity – apiclarity.io that will sit inside your micro-service infrastructure and watch your API calls from inside the service mesh (like wireshark on a monitor port) and not only watch what is happening, it will ensure your services are operating as expected based on your specification. The good news is, it is free – no, seriously go get it from github and try it out.
If you don’t have an API Spec now, then APIClarity will help you generate one, by monitoring traffic and building that specification.
This works by putting the service-mesh equivalent of “PCAP” into your service-mesh to deliver all API calls to the APIClarity engine, which then builds your API Specification from scratch. Once you have built that specification, you can save it, and when something unexpected happens – it will let you know.
The beauty is actually in the tools simplicity, and at the end of the day everything is pretty easy to understand if you just – upstack your thinking.
It wouldn’t be good without a demo right? How about a step by step build, no fancy code writing, no serious scripting – this is something you as a network engineer CAN do on your own.
I’m going to take a bit of a departure from what I normally write. Ok, I know what you might be thinking – I don’t write much. The reality is that since joining Cisco Systems some time ago, I have been working on some amazing projects – but as you can imagine such projects are generally internal, and many are not for public consumption.
In the last little while, we have been up to some cool stuff, one being a project call “Digital Canopy” amazing project to service over 15,000 people with free internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was one heck of a project, with so many hurdles to overcome. While donating free sounds like a great idea – and it is – that is just the beginning. Between lockdowns and shutdowns it took us almost a year, in the summer heat, in the winter cold – but we got the project done. Below is a quick video talking about what we did, and some of my team helping get the job done. If you catch me at Cisco Live in the future – and have a challenge coin to trade – I just might have a digital canopy one for you.
I would be lying if I said I was immune to COVID stress, from having very young children at home to a changing technology landscape and so much to learn. There was no question that times were tough. It was easy for some to say “Just work in the evening” but for those of us with young children, or children with needs – after a day of dealing with our kids – working another 4-6 hours at night was just impossible.
Thankfully, Cisco was there for me, with managers that were supportive and understanding, even when it was hard to get things done. Technology was obviously my friend and helped out a ton. However it simply was not enough.
The weekends have not felt much like weekends in some time, with young children, and ongoing lockdowns and limits, there was almost no escape from the daily grind of life. My friends who were physicians told me that mental health challenges were on the rise, and they went from the majority of their day working with chronic care patients to all new acute middle aged patients who had never had mental health challenges before. We were heading for a mental health crisis.
Mental Health is Health
Well, that is pretty easy to say isn’t it. From companies who tout mental health programs to fancy hashtags, it seems to be all the rage to get on the “we support mental health in the workplace”. Yet I still have friends working for organizations that claim to really care – being let go when things get difficult.
The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that by age 40 – 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness of some kind. A complex play of factors can cause mental health challenges, everything from genetics, biological, personality and environmental factors. Oh, you mean like a global pandemic? It’s easy to say “You have it easy compared to…..” but this isn’t a slow adjustment, we woke up one morning and were told “Do not go to the office” – for us there was zero notice, we didn’t even know the day we left we would never return.
One in five Canadians screened for positive symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of COVID-19. Including me. One in four women screened positive for at least one disorder, compared with 17% of men. 68% have reported that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic.
Cisco Takes Action
On May 22nd, Cisco Systems, at the instruction of the CEO Chuck Robbins and Chief People Officers Fran Katsoudas announced ‘A Day for Me’ – encouraging all of its workers to take a day off to rest on May 22nd. At first, some of us even called it “Chuck and Frank Day” – this was direction from way up high that it was time for every Cisco employee to take a day off. More on that here..
“Our wellbeing always comes first, Which is why we continue to focus on our people, talk about mental health, and invite experts to our Cisco Check-In sessions. Now is the time for us to try new things in support of our wellbeing – like taking a collective break.” – said Fran
There are reasons Cisco has been named “World’s Best Workplace 2020” – and this is pretty much the explanation of why. We all feel a direct connection to our leadership, even in such a huge company.
Why “A Day For Me” Is A Game Changer
Ok, so with all of that said – why do I personally feel this is such a game changer. First, I have been living it, we just came off a recent “Day for Me” on August 3rd (In Canada) and I want to explain why this is a game changer. Many people will say “We have many civic, state, federal and other holidays, why can we not just add more”
The key is really in being just a little bit selfish, in order to look after your own personal mental health. We all have our stressors in life. Some have families with children, some have parents, grand parents or other loved ones that require our attention, our own work activities. However once the weekend comes along, or a national holiday – everything in our day to day lives grinds to a halt – and our other set of priorities, our other set of responsibilities – grabs on like an iron fist and says… ok – mode switch – just like it happens every weekend – and for many – we are trading one stressor for another.
A “Day for Me” is exactly that, it’s for ME – nobody else. So my family still goes to work, school and daycare, my job, my boss, and my co-workers all take the day off – so I will not hear from them – and for once, and for that day… I can do whatever I want, with no responsibilities for that 8 hours period…. What did I do on this day for me? Well, we are a little limited due to the pandemic, so I kinda goofed off and played with toys, I made lunch, I went shopping for an hours by myself for no reason – I had breakfast at a local restaurant a friend owns (She kinda did ask me to fix her WiFi…). I did everything without a plan… I made a goofy video while sipping a drink at a picnic table on an iPhone (Still impressed I can basically shoot, edit, product and publish a video ON A PHONE)
It was when this was happening, on luckily a beautiful sunny day where I had nobody that needed me for something, nothing that HAD to be done that minute – I started to realize that “A Day for Me” isn’t just another day off, it isn’t like a long weekend or a national holiday. This was very truly and very uniquely a very very strong Mental Health action that Cisco was taking – somehow they had figured out that we needed a break… FROM EVERYTHING.
This is something that Cisco needs to continue – and other companies should start adopting. Just shut down, for a whole day, empower that employee to let the rest of the world motor on – and for them they can just do whatever they want. For some maybe that is taking their kids to an amusement park, or visiting family they don’t get to see, or attending that Yoga class that you never get to, or going swimming because the pool will be empty.
Or maybe.. just maybe – it is so that “A day for me” can for once, really be about just me, and a chance to unwind the brain and release some mental stress, doing a little bit of nothing.
There isn’t a single employee I have spoken to after “A day for me” that feels refreshed, and every single one feels better than after a typical weekend, or national holiday.
Ever wake up in the morning and don’t know where to start? How about worried about the next day activities, not sleeping much, maybe binge eating, not getting things done as much as you used to, feeling disconnected or just not like yourself. News flash, that is normal – and it is all about Mental Health. If you don’t go through mental health challenges, then you are simply not human. Some people can power through, some can muscle it out. Have you ever had a stomach flu or pain so bad you just had to goto the hospital? Mental health is no different – sometimes you just need to get it checked. This year I took multiple steps to address my own mental health, including talking to my family doctor, who did offer up some sound advice – and yes some of it was the normal “Eat healthy, get sleep” stuff, but others were great ways to help me get things in check. At first I thought it was all goofy advice, but my doctor insisted if I gave these things a shot – it would help, and it did, they were right.
If like me you think “Hmmm maybe something is wrong” – call your family doctor, and have a chat. It is worth it, and should you need more help, the government in your country will have resources, and your company probably also has employee self help programs and assistance programs.
Oh… and if you are working for another company that isn’t Cisco Systems…. Perhaps you should send them this blog article, because frankly… they are missing out on one heck of a game changing program.
In the USA, if you do not have a family doctor and need a referral, drop the SAMHSA hotline a call they will help you find help in your area – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
In the last few days we have learned of a very serious cyber attack launched against many organizations by a still unconfirmed attacker. Some suggest nation states are behind it, but whomever has done it, was very very smart. This will go down as one of the most genius hacks of all time. Solarwinds one of the largest and most prolific network/server management platforms was hacked from the inside, their supply chain of software actually distributed malware, to the inside of the network, behind firewalls, into a system that is the nerve centre of networks. The hack itself is frankly genius. It’s pure evil – but it’s genius.
There are many blogs out there taking on the task of taking apart the hack itself – I will not do this here, I am not a security expert. I would encourage you to seek those out.
There is a 100% chance your organization will be attacked, and even odds that it will actually be breached. This is something that you need to understand and accept – have plans for each of these, but, what if you do not? This attack happened from the inside out from a trusted software vendor. No firewall could have protected against this.
We were all new once
Do you remember that? I do. Wow did I do some stupid things while learning. Thankfully in my early career days I had some more senior engineers who helped (or took pity) me learn. If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t be where I am.
Even the experienced make mistakes
I have a confession to make. Even after years of experience, I have done dumb things. I have taken down large environments in the middle of a business day, I have broken things – all things that could have been avoided had I made the right choice. Most of those mistakes were a single command, or mouse click – followed by “Oh Sh–” and an immediate learning moment. Understand that technology engineers often have to make split second decisions that can result in either very positive or very negative outcomes, and planning time is not always on our side. Sometimes we are also working alone, with nobody to discuss the plan with, and are working against some kind of imposed timeline.
Some manufacturers say “You can replace this CPU card in the middle of the operating day” — the so called “Hot Swap”. Ok, would you do this though? Ask yourself one question.. The manufacturer says I can – but should I? What are the repercussions if it goes down when I am doing that? Remember, you are the one making that decision – do not blame the manufacturer if it goes wrong.
Limited resources result in complacency and cut corners
When people are pushed to the limit, especially those in smaller IT organizations that is where corners get cut. Maybe you used Telnet when you should have enabled SSH, or used the same passwords for a bunch of accounts. For years and years, service accounts were built with full-admin rights to the entire network and even given interactive logon rights. We did these things and didn’t think anything of it. Now we know better, but did we go back and fix every single little thing we ever did wrong?
Everyone at some point – did it wrong. The question is, did someone else go back and do it right?
We need to stop the “Blame Game” which is so prevalent in our industry. My cloud application went down, blame the cloud provider, the switch went down when I typed this command that should have been ok, blame the manufacturer.
We need to learn, and grow, and make better decisions and understand that sometimes things happen. The question is, did you think about what the consequences were, and weigh the positive and negative outcomes of what you were about to do. Now imagine doing that calculation in your brain – with – every – keystroke.
Help each other, avoid standing in the ivory tower
This week, many people will lose their jobs, as a result many will lose their homes and some their livelihoods, because someone needed someone to blame. For what? Possibly a human error. That’s right, behind every one of these electron switching super computers, firewalls, switches and lines of code, is a real fallible learning human being. Who makes mistakes, and grows from them.
Instead of being critical of each other, now is the time to band together and help everyone remediate the damage, and take this as a serious warning that we need to take certain things more seriously. Password management, inter-domain firewalls, security posture on operating systems.
So in that light, I urge you that if you, this week, are looking at your IT team, who right now might be panicking about what to do, questioning if they were attacked, questioning if they were impacted and worried for their job, and you are wondering if they know what they are doing about this. The reality is that almost nothing could have been done to protect against this.
Ask them these 3 simple questions.
Are we affected by this?
What are we doing about it?
How do we prevent this from affecting us again, or in the future.
Then tell them you know their job is difficult – they have literally thousands of hackers, and government bad actors against them – and they are just a small IT team running your business. It is a hard job and they need your support.
When you become a Cisco staffer, the event changes for you. With responsibilities that involve “whatever got you there”. Contrary to what many might think, most Cisco internal employees do not get to go to Cisco Live!, you need to have a reason. As one of my internal mentors tells me “Find the hook, find something they need you for” and then you just might get to go.
This year, our team built the “Cisco Innovation Network” a series of booths all around Cisco Innovation and pushing the limits of Cisco technology both home and abroad. Our Toronto Co-Innovation Centre alone had 3 demo’s we had to build.
This means the responsibility to keep things running, get things setup, and ensure everyone above and below is happy. It must run perfectly – or at least appear that way.
Finding time for social activities is a challenge, and you have to pick your schedule carefully. I found myself rushing to an appointment, and then rushing back to the booth to help my team. There was little down time, lunch was often on the go – on one day it was skipped.
The event is for our customers, so even with a full pass, you still cannot just waltz into a session – you have to wait for everyone else to enter so customers can get the best seats, and then only if there is space, you can go in. This year I couldn’t find time to go to a single session, but that is ok, they are recorded. I didn’t get to see the keynotes, as we were in our booth, and due to space constraints we were asked to leave the space for the customers.
This was very busy, with one of our projects coming down to not just the wire, but being completed on the show floor. Not due to lack of planning, that was actually our plan, with one of our partners coming with us, they finished their work only a few days before the event, and we did the integration LIVE for the first time on the show floor.
Our team setup a mock up of our demo’s here in Toronto, just the way they would be on the show floor, and then started to inventory our packed gear. We counted every part, and brought along extra gear just in case.
We couldn’t miss anything, if we did, even shipping was not fast enough, so we brought spare parts, and even spare gear so that no matter what happened we would be ok. So we placed everything we were going to take out.
We also made sure that we split gear across who was travelling. We couldn’t lose an entire demo, some of these things were one off designs and proofs of concept so we couldn’t lose them.
Then we realized we needed extra things, like cables, connectors, couplers, power strips. All things you cannot just “run out and get” in San Diego. There isn’t a Wal-Mart or Best Buy next door, so it all had to come with us.
A view under the covers….
We arrived at #CLUS on Saturday, with the plan to start checking our booth out. We wanted the extra day to ensure everything was going to go ok, so direct from the airport to the show floor. We found a few issues, short cables, some cables that were trapped under some things, and it was crazy on the floor. You wouldn’t think we were opening in two days. No carpets, many vendors had not even shown up yet.
As we pushed to finish our build out on Sunday, everyone was arriving, and we could finally get things buttoned up once and for all. I had my first appointment on Sunday this year. Meeting with the Cisco Champions at the Cisco Store.
As a former Cisco Champion before I joined the company, I was asked to host the team during the tour at the on site Cisco Store. We have been working on Innovation in Retail for some time here, and it was a great opportunity to share what we have been doing in Toronto and what the Cisco Store has been doing with the Champions.
Monday morning came, and the World of Solutions opens at 10AM, that means arriving as early as possible to make sure nothing went wrong over night. The floor does not open to anyone until 8:30 – that means 90 minutes.
Everything went ok with our go live, we had a small “heat” issue in our little networking closet (someone tossed something against the front of the rack, and then someone put the back of the rack almost back on so it couldn’t get any air) and then a power problem due to lack of plugs.
Only a few minutes before the floor opened our entire network in our little pod “exploded” we still do not know what happened but every machine reported an IP Conflict, and the IR829 for our demo just stopped responding. We took the nuclear option and powered off/on – and that problem never occurred again. It was a tense moment.
Here is quick montage of how the morning went…
It isn’t all fun and games…
We had many responsibilities this year. With 3 demo’s and only 5 staff from our centre, it was tight. Add in that some of us had responsibilities outside of the booth area and the days became very long.
Hosting the Cisco Champ’s in our booth was great along with the probably thousand demos we did during the week.
Then running from demo, to theatre talk, back to demo, back to off site interview or talk.
I hosted a group from Europe on a Smart Building Tour of the World of Solutions one day, and then 5 talks in our booth on various days and times. One of them was before the event even opened.
Daily we had to ensure the demos were working in the AM. Then throughout the day.
Don’t forget your roots…
The community aspects of Cisco Live are very important to me personally as well as professionally, so I did ensure to walk by andtry and stop at the Social Media Hub when I was in the area.
This year it was located near the Sails Pavilion, and was a great location. The “hat” display was a nice touch as was the “build your own lego avatar”
This is a common place for the friends, family and colleagues who meet every year to talk and meet. There always seems to be someone hanging out there.
As is normally the case, in and around the event conclusion daily many people find their way to the SMH to meet with friends and discuss the learning of the day. Sometimes we get some cool visitors who stop in to share their wisdom. A crowd generally gathers when @denisefishburne shows up.
This group is always important to me – it is literally the reason I attend Cisco Live.
I will be there. The question is will I find my hook, my reason. Just because we had a booth space this year does not mean we will next year. Either way the event is about everyone that comes to it. The slogan this year “You Make Possible” is very fitting for this event. Without the community, without the people, and without the passion Cisco Live would not be what it is today.
Before I sign off, I would like to just provide my wrap up video of the event
As Cisco Live #CLUS approaches, I am reminded of way back in 2012, my first Cisco Live. I was working for a cloud startup, and managed to talk my boss into letting me go. Not always an easy thing to do in a small 8 person shop.
Where it all started…
When I arrived, I found my way into Tom’s Corner – and ran into Tom Hollingsworth – @NetworkingNerd . Tom was very welcoming, and introduced me to an entire community of peeps, many of whom I now consider family.
I became more active in social networking online, mostly twitter. Slowly growing my social network online. Until one day in 2015 – I launched my online presence known as CANTECHIT. Just so we are clear, That is CAN-TECH-I.T. – Although many over the years have called me “Can Tech IT” either way, I am Justin. A technology generalist geek.
After launching my blog in 2015, I wrote some articles that became rather popular, with my own writing style, and what has been described as a conversational blogging flare. Some articles about Meraki as their platform was blooming, a few quick articles as the Cisco WebEX board was launched and to this day, and article about Windows 2012 WiFi Authentication continues to be my number 1 search hit. I am really no good at SEO – to be honest I am not that great at english either. However I am always sure that my premises is clean, and my premise is well thought out (That’s for you Tom).
Inspiration Hits and Content Rolls in
During 2015 and 2016, I really started to publish some of my best work. I was getting some ping backs from other bloggers, I had written about some strange technical issues I had run into and how I solved it. I had also written some personal stories about my life. One article I am very proud of is one on what I call “Dedication Sickness” and how it changed my life. A link to it here.
I had also started working with the Cisco Champion program at Cisco, a team that delivers content for social influencers. I had been accepted into their program, and happy to say to this day, I still working with the program even though I am now an insider.
Picked up by Gestalt IT and Field Day
For me much of this changed the day I got a call from Tom Hollingsworth, and it went something like this “Are you free Aug 10-12 we would like to invite you to Networking Field day 12”
This was pivotal for me. I highly respected the “Field Day” team, their content and those involved, and to be honest did not feel like I had risen to the occasion, nor did I feel like I was good enough. Quickly I found my stride in that program, and figured out that I was just me – and that is all they wanted.
Content Is King – Opportunities Abound
If we could all be tripping over content like crazy, blogging would be simple. Finally, I had content available to me. Between Cisco Live, Cisco Champions and Tech Field Day, I had lots of content. I was offered the opportunity to host Cisco Champions Radio, basically given the opportunity to have my own radio show, and interview anyone I wanted (They said, except @ChuckRobbins – but hopefully I will get to one day). Along with many co-hosts, we interviewed everyone from Cisco TacOPS, to Enterprise Networking, to program founders. A sample here.
In 2016, I was given the opportunity to talk at Cisco Live about Social Branding and how to build a social brand.
Professional Social Networking Was Key
All of these programs and opportunities gave me the opportunity to meet people, and build relationships with amazing professionals. These were people that designed Cisco technologies, actually built Cisco silicon and held titles of distinguished engineer and an entire host of distinguished speakers.
Year after year went by, and I was provided the opportunity to work with, and learn from these amazing professionals, and they pushed me.
Empowering My Employer
As all of this was happening, I worked for a Cisco Partner. My involvement, my blogging, my time with Tech Field Day helped me get better at my job. I gained significant knowledge and became a better architect. I was able to keep my company ahead of the curve, and help train others. This lead to promotions, and leadership roles within my company. Some of the things I learned, and some of the things I blogged about became major business opportunities for the company – that lead them to fully support my activities including going to Field Day, and Cisco Live every year.
I knock on Cisco Canada’s Door….
One Friday night, while updating some LinkedIN postings, I ran across a posting at Cisco Canada. They were looking for someone for the Toronto Innovation Centre. As I read the postings I kept thinking “There is no way this is real” and “Did they write this just for me”
There was zero hesitation. I loved what I was doing – and I was working on amazing projects with amazing customers and together with my leadership team we had built an amazing professional services organization – but, this read like a dream.
So I brushed off my resume, cleaned up my cover letter and applied. After a long process, many many many interviews (including 3 the day after my first daughter was born), I made the call to my boss at the time and said “We need to talk”.
He told me “You have to go for it!” he knew that this was my dream, and something that would turn into something great, and with his support, and that of my internal references. I got the job.
Those internal references – are people I met as a part of my involvement in Cisco Live!.
Where I have landed, and why I am quiet.
Anyone who knows me in real life, knows I am hardly ever quiet. Currently working with the Innovation Centres at Cisco (Not affiliated with my blog) I spend much of my day on confidential projects, or working with technologies that I cannot share publicly. I also have been lacking the inspiration to write about something specific, and I never have written unless something specific pops up. The work we are doing is revolutionary, and we are working on the latest in technology and solving many difficult problems for customers and we speak to 1000’s of people per year about our programs and talk to many students per year. We all love what we do.
That is it… and some thanks….
So that is it, Cisco Live, changed my career. It was not without some hard work – but it all started with a visit to Live, and ending up in Tom’s Corner. That resulted in joining the Cisco Champs, attending multiple Networking Field Day’s, even more Cisco Live’s and eventually now working as the Innovation Architect at Cisco. So thanks to all of you that believed in me, and gave me a chance, and those that are continuing to support me.
A week ago when I published this blog article, it was after seeing YouTube plagiarism hitting all new levels. What drove my decision to write, was that I saw the post mentioned below – and decided to write. Why specifically this one? I know Steve (FlightChops) personally, we have studied together, he has helped me, I have appeared in his vlog before. I want to be 100% clear – nobody asked me to write this. NOBODY. I don’t write FOR anyone, I am not a shill, or narcissistic enough to think that I have some kind of internet clout.
This morning I received a message asking if I would take this blog article down from Steve (FlightChops). I simply won’t do that. Nothing I have said is incorrect or untrue, and the rest is my personal opinion. I told him that you can’t turn back the clock, and newspapers don’t print retractions simply because someone doesn’t like the content.
In actuality, Steve (FlightChops) was not super happy I wrote this BLOG, because it is causing him some problems. I am stuck in a hard place between a professional acquaintance – and my journalistic integrity.
That being said, I welcome both Steve (FlightChops) and Steveo1Kinevo to send me their comments and/or statements – and I will post them verbatim here on my blog, or they can feel free to post it anywhere they want, or use the comment section.
The Neistat Effect
There are many YouTubers out there who have literally millions of followers, PewDiePie, Casey Neistat – go ahead and pick one. There are innovators within the YouTube platform that came up with amazing ways to do things, the “vlogging” format was not invented by Neistat, but he found a way to make it compelling enough to make a living on it.
Is Neistats work still unique? It is to him – but then you look at the many people that clone or copy his recipe. Is this plagiarism? No. “a guy who builds a really nice chair doesn’t owe money to everyone who ever has built a chair”
Then look at someone like Devin Graham of DevinsuperTramp. Devin and the team at Supertramp built a business out of compelling viral type videos and stunts.
Each has their own unique style, and while there are many that clone, copy or even build videos on “How to VLOG like Casey Neistat” these people are just using his method.
Now let’s look at when it goes TOO far…
When imitation becomes plagiarism
Here is a video posted by “FlightChops” Steve Thorne who was one of the original YouTubers in the private pilot aviation world. As he says himself “I basically made a job by sucking”. This video below posted just over a year ago went accidentally viral. Steve doesn’t do viral videos, he just does Steve. 4.5 Million Views, his most popular video ever and some pretty cool content.
Fast forward a year later and fellow YouTuber steveo1kinevo (Steve Nazer) posts this gem as seen below. Basically the same screen shot, and nearly the same title.
Does this qualify as plagiarism? Perhaps it even goes as far as to qualify as Trade Dress Infringement. To explain what that is, Wikipedia states “Trade dress protection is intended to protect consumers from packaging or appearance of products that are designed to imitate other products; to prevent a consumer from buying one product under the belief that it is another”
The issue goes one step further. Steveo1kinevo also prunes, and blocks any account that posts any form of negative comment about his content. A number of comments were left calling him out on this plagiarism, but he immediately removed those after he noticed them. Anyone who posts comments about his flagrant use of the EXACT music tracks that Neistat uses, or his obvious use of a Boosted Board in his videos is immediately filtered.
To be clear, I live in Toronto, and I actually know Steve Flightchops, but that doesn’t change the facts of what I have posted above. While they say that imitation is the finest forms of flattery, I would say that in this case, it feels more like a case of trade dress infringement is the worst kind of plagiarism.
For Flightchops, this is his livelihood, his career and his art. For those plagiarizing, it’s “just a youtube channel”.
If it wasn’t so blatantly obvious, and if some attribution to the original work was at least provided, and comments mentioning that someone else did it first and this deserves credit where it is due were not deleted. It wouldn’t feel so wrong.
On YouTube – Content is king, and many people will run out there and try to cash in on your good fortune. I just wish people were a little more honest.
In your career it is important to know your limitations. I am not a software developer
I am not a software developer. This is a gift. I know many people that are, just like the matrix, they don’t even see the code – they see the solution, the answer, the journey. I see an empty IDE and no idea where to even start.
I am an IT Generalist, who specializes in architecture, networking and voice collaboration technology. I started my life in the TDM voice world as a computer nerd, so when VoIP showed up it was easy to pick up and over time I spent time learning VoIP, then networking, then building a manufacturing IT infrastructure, and then a cloud provider. None of these required me to be a software developer, the word “DevOPS” didn’t exist much, the developers generally kept to themselves
I have spent my entire career trying to figure out what the next big thing is, or what I thought was up and coming – and spending time on that. Mostly because I thought it was cool and fun. However now I reach this impasse where every cool and interesting thing I want to get involved in ends up with some kind of code based development requirement, or even simple API implementation to do things that are cool and not out of the box.
In a recent conversation with a Sr engineer from Google she told me “Network Architects are insane, how you can understand all of that I will never understand” – I told her, I felt the same about software developers. Perhaps we could learn from each other in that regard, I told her I understood how she feels.
Software developers think “It’s really easy, I don’t understand why you don’t get it” or “Just do X / Y / X”. “Just learn Node.JS”. I see networks and I see Chopin, but when it comes to code, I can barely play chopsticks.
Some days I stare at my console and think “I could do this if I could only figure that out”. It pains me when people say “We have an easy to use API Kit” or “We have an easy to use REST-API”.
My industry is transforming, to a software defined world. The last time I touched a line of code was Borland Turbo C in college, and before that it was Visual Basic 1.0 in high school.
Recently I started to touch micro-controllers, and “program” in the Arduino IDE. I have built some small projects by mostly cut-pasting code examples and other projects, cobbling together code bits to get what I needed, hardly programming but it is as close as I have been to any kind of code. Part of why it worked for me was, it is linear execution, which I understand a little.
I don’t need to be a software developer
I’m not going to be, let’s be honest, I will not be the next major software genius that writes the next big blockchain based super electronic currency, or code part of the next World of Warcraft series. There is however some things I need to be able to do, make one API talk to another, and collect information from one API into a database and then do things with it. Nothing that is ground breaking. I need to be able to automate things, inform intent in networks with context from…. well…. whatever it is I need. Create basic things. So for that reason I will take these next 12 months to take a shot at it. I have a great support system where I work now – with our developer network to back me, and some close friends who have offered the support to hold my hand. Will this work? I don’t know, but I feel that it is something very important.
In the end I don’t need to develop code as beautiful as Chopin, but I need to play some Fur Elise.
This has been my first post in awhile. With my new gig, I have been very very busy, much of the things I work on – I cannot blog about. Sometimes I tweet a bit about what is going on, snippets here and there but nothing that hits me and says “Bloggable” – so for those that follow, more will come.
Back in the 90’s during a trip to Florida, a gentlemen asked me if I wanted to drive a car called the “EV1” – a 60-100 mile range EV manufactured by General Motors. At the time I didn’t drive the car on a roadway, but on a dyno. I was instantly hooked, instant smooth acceleration, a unique and futuristic vehicle. I knew at this point I wanted an electric vehicle, and this would be the future.
Realism kicked in – at the time I lived well over 60 miles from where I worked, my life had me driving 150+ miles in a single day and owning an electric was simply not feasible in my life – that and the GM EV1 was only ever leased in California. It also came with Lead Acid batteries or later on NiMH which resulted in heavy weight, low life and limited places to charge but at home (some public locations existed). An interior that was years ahead of its time made the entire car look very futuristic.
Eventually just like GM killed the Pontiac Fiero (Which I happened to be driving at the time) the GM EV1 leases were all cancelled, owners FORCED to return their cars, and they were almost all destroyed except a few that remain on inactive display today. Go and check out “Who Killed The Electric Car” for the whole story, it is a good one.
Hybrids and What We Learned?
I’m not here to discuss these – they are complex – which is part of the problem. Take a complicated internal combustion based vehicle, add in electric, then try to combine it – make things even more complex and voila – great car. However not without challenges.
To add some context, I did own a 2009 Toyota Prius – also known as the “Gen 2” which was an amazing car, I loved owning it. It was futuristic, and gave me a little bit of the feel of the GM EV1, the electric power was amazing, I could force the car to drive only on battery which was an amazing feeling that only those who have driven an EV can describe. Sure it only went 5KM and only under 50KPH, but it was PURE battery.
Over the years I had it, it never had a single problem, with the exception of a very very over active traction control system that caused the brakes not to function properly (Ok that was pretty serious) but otherwise the car was very reliable. I was featured by CityTV in 2010 when I took one of their reporters on a drive to demonstrate what I called “Floating brakes”
This ended up being a software related problem, they claimed they fixed it – but I still had issues. They also claimed my car wasn’t affected.
Why is this relevant? All electric cars have one problem – power – they can quickly and easily destroy themselves because the motors have instantaneous torque – so complex traction control or torque control systems need to be used to ensure the electric motor doesn’t just spin the tires endlessly.
Think of it this way – electric motors can put out maximum torque at zero RPM instantly. Gasoline engines have to “rev up” or get moving somewhere into their power band before they deliver maximum torque, so there is little shock on the drive system. Electric motors have enough power to just twist stuff.
“Range Extended” EV cars exist today, some where the engine only charges the batteries like the “Volt” – I see these cars as a stop gap measure, but they are here to stay. Mechanically driven Hybrids will remain in the performance market, but in the cheap car world, systems similar to the Volt will be popular simply because they are less complex.
Surprising but, we have not come very far, if you put aside the DIY’s and the one off EV cars the first mass produced generally accepted electric, was without question the Nissan Leaf, first delivered in 2010. Part of the reason for this long gap is very simple – battery technology. The Leaf used Lithium Ion, lighter weight and a higher energy charge per pound. The styling left something to be desired and the range was only about 110km (depending) due to the very small 24KWh batteries. Many followed suit with similar cars with similar poor performance, 0-60 times near 10 seconds and ranges as low as 60KM and as high as 150km – but still nothing that could get the average long distance commuter to and from work and to the grocery store without relying on charging stations that didn’t exist.
Things are improving, with current EV’s available with BIG incentives in many regions, where I live there is a $14,000 incentive from the government, but that was recently revoked for any car worth over $75K (Rich person tax) and rumors have that incentive going away completely.
What can you get today? A short example is the Smart ForTwo EV (135KM), Ford Focus Electric (185KM), Nissan Leaf (150km), Hyundai Ionic (180KM), Kia Soul (150km), VW E-Golf (140km), Chevy Bolt EV (350KM), BMW i3 (156km), and of course, Tesla. However with the rare exception of the not widely known about Chevy Bolt EV, all of these have very small batteries designed for city runabouts. Most have 25ish KWh batteries, with the Bolt around 60kwh, and the Tesla with various ranges. We also have this problem of range ratings – depending on which range “test” you look at it varies by 30% – well if I need to get to work 70KM each way and I buy a Focus Electric because it’s supposed to 185KM, and doesn’t – I’m not going to be happy – also keep in mind weather plays a HUGE factor on electric range, to the tune of 30%.
It would be difficult not to suggest that the current EV revolution was largely at the behest of Elon Musk. A man sometimes compared to the late Steve Jobs in how he manages companies and builds empires. He started a bunch of businesses that he sold and eventually one of them was “PayPal” which he sold to E-Bay for 1.5 billion.
Many credit Elon Musk for starting Tesla but that isn’t actually true, he started there as an investor, eventually taking control of the company and turning it into what it is today.
Musk focuses the company on battery and drive train technology, with the intent to build a system that can be used by all automakers – focusing on the real problems associated with EV’s, battery technology, charging and reliable drive trains.
His goal was to create the $30K USD EV car – and with the Model 3, he is coming close to that. The Tesla Model S was the first generally available EV Car that exceeded the 200 mile range even with the small P60 model with the P100D model surpassing 300 miles. However prices approaching 6 figures are pretty common, a base Model S will run you $75K USD, a Model 3 with the longer range battery will run you $44K+ USD. These are not inexpensive.
Tesla is however pushing this forward, and unlike the “big 3” and the overseas car makers, they have no petrol past to worry about, only an electric future. Somehow Tesla managed to get a $250 Million dollar interest free loan from 250,000 people who plopped down $1000 to get in “line” for a Model 3 that might be delivered at some point, maybe in the near future with no promises. From a company that has a history of late vehicle delivery I might add. People are actually getting those cars, but I will be honest, the car isn’t without it’s quibbles and problems, and, it is still a premium car. Many who are willing to plunk down $80K+ simply cannot because the company just cannot deliver cars fast enough, that is a nice business problem to have but if Tesla does not figure out how to fix it soon, other car makers are going to start eating away at their market share quickly. Most of the Tesla problems are related to manual manufacturing processes in their facilities and problems with automation – things are just happening too slowly.
200 Miles+ in 2019
Just about every car maker has cars coming in 2019 that will exceed 200 miles (325KM). Nissan’s very popular Leaf (arguable the most popular EV next to Tesla) is rumored to have over 225 mile range, the Bolt EV is already there, Hyundai claims the new Kona will have 250 mile range.
Jag has an SUV coming called the ipace with 239 mile range and over 500FT/lbs of torque carrying a 90KWh battery for $69K USD. A shot across the bow at the Tesla Model-X for sure, and for a significantly lower price.
2019 will be the year when EV goes mainstream (In my opinion). CUV/SUV cars that are fully battery operated are showing up, and performance cars have already started to integrate the extreme performance that only electric can provide.
What this also means is – let the battle begin on price. Tesla will start to feel the heat, with other car makers figuring out how to actually deliver cars, Tesla will be left behind if they cannot figure out how to actually deliver product.
Owning an EV is not without its challenges, just to name a few lets talk about them, you might be surprised.
That’s right you thought electrical plugs were standard, if you have ever traveled the world you know the plugs differ, and on cars that is no different. Luckily the world seems to have standardized on the average “Level 2” charger, or the one you would put in your home, and they call it “J1772” or “Level 2”. You will find this on almost every electric car – except some Teslas, but they give you an adapter for it. Any charging station at any public place or home you will find this charger – but – it could take about 8+ hours to charge your car from empty to full, not exactly a “fuel” stop
Then we have “Level 3” chargers, which are designed to fill your battery from empty to almost full in 30ish minutes. There is no clear standard here and the entire world seems to still be arguing. They do this by basically bypassing the internal A/C charger on board and delivering DC power direct to the battery cells. These fit into 3 standards as the most common. CHAdeMO (Left) a japanese standard and CSS (right) a more North American standard. The CHAdeMO became popular because the Nissan Leaf uses it, and the popularity of that car drove adoption of that plug standard. Here is the best part, because of various technical reasons – an adapter from CHAdeMO to CSS is not impossible, but would be VERY expensive to build, Tesla makes a CHAdeMO to Tesla adapter, but not CSS. From where I sit, CHAdeMO is on its way out, CSS is going to win this battle, even the european union is looking at passing a law to remove subsidy for CHAdeMO installs. Luckily right now, most stations have BOTH.
As per normal Tesla didn’t follow suit, part of the reason is that they recognize that people need to charge – FAST, double the speed of most Level 3 chargers – they created their own system called “Supercharger” and even went so far as to deploy a network of them realizing if they were going to sell EV’s then people will need a place to charge them, their chargers using their own technology charge must faster than their counterparts. I will give Telsa one thing, their connectors are much nicer looking than the counterparts. They call it the UMC, but now depending on the market the cars are sold in – some are coming with standard Type 2 connectors.
Most of the companies are getting around this worry by consumers by basically providing a REALLY long warranty, 8 years and 192,000 KM from Tesla, longer than some of the others. We also have not had mainstream EV’s long enough to understand what a battery replacement would cost – nobody has had their Tesla long enough.
Nissan Leaf owners have seen $5,000 USD to $8,000 USD prices on replacement batteries, but it seems they replace most under warranty. Tesla batteries have a price around $12,000 for some Model S cars, the bottom line is these are expensive.
70% design life seems to be the magic number in the industry, once your battery loses 30% of the capacity, the battery is considered failed and your manufacturer will replace it. Under 60K Miles in the Leaf, regardless of age, Nissan has been known to just replace the pack. Tesla is very hush hush about the work they do – they tend to “Just fix it” and send people on their happy way.
The bottom line is, there is tons of good will going on, car makers need people to trust the technology and not worry about the batteries, so they are offering this kind of coverage. Most manufacturers are stating that the batteries will survive the life of the chassis – I am not sure I agree with that statement.
The current Nissan Leaf batteries switched to a passive cooling system instead of active cooling – users all over the internet are talking about early battery degradation – cost savings by Nissan, but is it hurting the opinions of EV owners? The internet opinions suggests it does.
One look at this map and one might think “Wow they are everywhere”. However there are challenges, many are restricted access, many require paying for expensive parking to access, some charge you to use them and sometimes at rates that are higher than what it would cost to fill a gasoline vehicle. Some are very busy stations and often full.
Then there is plug standards, only about 15% are Level 3 fast chargers, the rest are J1772 Level 2 – remember 4-8 hours to charge depending on your particular car, but wait, the J1772 chargers are typically 30A Max. Many of the public charging stations can be limited by the installer, many are 7-10A maximum. Why? To limit how much they are putting in your car, after all someone has to pay for the power.
“Free” charging is pretty common right now, but that is changing quickly, some “free” charging comes with a expensive parking charge – at least you get something out of that deal, but if it is 7A, and you are there for 1HR, that is not going to net you very much additional range.
It would also appear that many that charge are doing so based on TIME – and not KWH, which is pretty poor when you consider they are limiting you to less than 30A, so a 1 hour charge might cost you $15 – but only net you 25 miles of additional range, that is exceeding gasoline costs.
The last problem is – etiquette, some EV owners are of the opinion once your car is full, you should return to your spot and move it – giving the spot to someone else to use. Many feel the spot is theirs, and they are not moving. Do you move your car mid day today? Probably not. Our minds and mind-set needs to change, but fights over charger access do occur.
In my opinion public charging stations should be considered a nice convenience, but if your intention is to buy an EV – and rely on public charging stations to complete your journey – you are making a big mistake. You cannot rely on their availability, or output.
Electrical Grid Stress
Nuff said. Right now if every person was using 7.2Kw to charge at least 1 car in the garage, based on the math on the street I live on – only half the houses on my street could do it before it overloads just the transformer on my street. The grid is far from ready for this explosion. Also what happens when “Sorry boss power went out, couldn’t charge the car” is your excuse at work? Is that going to fly?
We are on the cusp of an EV revolution, with reasonable prices on vehicles that go the distance and are practical. I have said for years, the first EV that is $25K USD, that goes 350 Miles on a charge will win the electric car game. We are not there yet and will not be, my guess is 2022.
I need to do ‘the things I want in a single day’ without thinking about charging in order for this EV thing to work. We are close to that, we are there for those who live in the city, but for commuters like me, like I said, 2019 will be an interesting year.
The bottom line is, for electric cars – EVs to catch on, we need to eliminate the fuel stops, because with EV’s right now charging the car in the 200 seconds it takes to fill my VW Golf simply isn’t possible, but I hear they are working on that too.
I simply cannot go about my day depending on access to a limited charger network that has limited reliability, limited spots, and a long charge time, I have to go about my business and make it home – no range anxiety and no questions asked.
A two car family could probably own one petrol car, and one EV – long trips you grab the Petrol car, but day to day, the EV becomes the choice. Time will tell – for me – my next purchase will probably be one of these EVs, that I know for sure.